Allen Craig, THE man crush and man of two first names, deserves to have a prominent role in the St. Louis Cardinals lineup for the next 5 years. There is no question about this. There is no argument against it. His bat is too valuable. Born July 18, 1984, Craig is already 27 and will be entering his age 28 season. Five years puts him through his age 32 season. A baseball player's career is just not that long, in the grand scheme of things.
Does Allen Craig have his problems? Sure he does. Allen Craig is 1) a butcher with the glove at second base, 2) not much better at third base, and 3) he is a right-handed bat in a lineup that has a Matt Holliday and, newly appointed hero of St. Louis, David Freese in it. Of course, Allen Craig superbly outperformed David Freese in the regular season last year - even if Freese just barely got the best of him in the playoffs - and please don't quote Freese's record RBI totals at me on that, Craig knocked in some of the biggest runs in the post-season with back-to-back game leading hits in the first two games of the World Series.
In response to those main concerns above: 1) He was thrust into second base solely because Tony LaRussa and John Mozeliak, and the other coaches desperately wanted his astounding bat in the lineup. 2) David Freese will be manning third base whenever healthy - and knock on wood fully healthy for a full year or decade. 3) Who said that having too many good right handed bats is a bad thing?
In his last two full seasons, 871 PAs, in the minors (that number does not include this year's 12 games of rehab), Craig put up .321/.380/.548/.928 line. He's walked once for every two strikeouts - while cutting his strikeout rate and improving his walk rate in the second of those two seasons. Add on 50 doubles and 40 homers in a pitcher's park in Memphis and that gives him a damn fine resume. In an injury riddled 2011 season in St. Louis, despite being shoved off on several different positions and spots in the order, Allen Craig was quite possibly the most consistent offensive force on the human side of Lance Berkman.
When you look at Allen Craig's numbers from last year and compare them to others in the organization and the team, the numbers simply look more and more impressive. Those of you who frequent this site are familiar with the St. Louis Cardinals. Lance Berkman led the team with a .959 OPS last year. Matt Holliday was third at .912 and Albert Pujols was 4th at .906. Who was second you might ask? Allen Craig at .917. Yes, he beat out the $33M sitting in left field and at first base - at least when Craig was not subbing in for those positions in the lineup. You might say, but Ben, he did that with a .344 BABIP! It's true; his BABIP was well higher than any of the others I just listed there. He may have gotten slightly lucky. In those two seasons in the minors that have already been referenced, Craig had BABIPs of .353 and .351. Now, it would be very difficult for me to imagine Allen Craig being a true .344 BABIP hitter in the major leagues, since those players are few and far between. However, Allen is in his prime years RIGHT NOW. He has done it for three straight years now - including over 1000 ABs between AAA and MLB.
Craig, in the minors, has also shown the propensity to learn and do better the longer he is at a particular level. He did it in AA; he did it again at AAA. That fact leads me to believe he can keep up his production next year - and do even better when healthy. In particular, I would like for you to take a look at the walk rates and the strikeout rates that Craig achieved in his last four full years in the minors.
2007 A+ - 7.5% BB% and 16.9% K%
2008 AA - 8.5% BB% and 15.3% K%
2009 AAA - 7.1% BB% and 18.2% K%
2010 AAA - 9.7% BB% and 16.9% K%
Now I want to throw last year's statistics in those two categories at you: 2011 MLB - 6.8% BB% and 18.3% K%
If he can even put up a modest gain to 7.5% and 17%, just think of what he could do putting that many more balls in play - while getting 500 at bats.
Everyone here knows that an extra base hit is much better than a single, which is better than a walk. Since I love looking at the numbers, here are some more astounding 2011 Allen Craig facts. There were 355 people in major league baseball that had at least 200 plate appearances last season. Allen Craig was one of them. When looking at the ISO statistic*, Allen Craig's was .240. It is a good power number. Allen Craig was tied for 23rd in the league. There were only 10 players who topped the .250 mark. Pujols topped Craig at .242 and Berkman topped them both at .246. I expect that Berkman's power numbers will fall off slightly this year and that Craig has a serious shot at leading the 2011 Cardinals in ISO. Of course, as the eternal optimist and homer, I totally want him to finish 4th on the team at .255 or so.
*For a primer on ISO, go here: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/offense/iso/
Allen Craig led all rookies (with over 200 PAs) last season in Slugging % and ISO - two very important power numbers. He was also third in on base percentage - probably the most important statistic in baseball - not making outs. Craig was 4th in WAR amongst rookie hitters, with only 219 PAs. The others ahead of him had 376, 435, and 658 PAs. While hitting for more power than any of them, he still struck out less often than two out of three of those rookies. Allen Craig also is a fairly good base runner - at least he showed that last season. He stole 5 bases in 5 attempts last year. Tony LaRussa does not usually allow many people to run, until said player has earned his trust. For a rookie to have done that is remarkable. To not have gotten caught while doing that is even better. Now, his minor league numbers show that he will never be a base thief in the Edgar Renteria mold even, but that he could become like Albert Pujols or Matt Holliday or, at least, Yadier Molina - where he can take bases when needed and when necessary - using the surprise factor.
Allen Craig will also be a plus defender for the St. Louis Cardinals. I truly believe that, without equivocation. In 190 2/3 innings in left field last season, Craig was undeniably good at 7.0 UZR/150 - see more on UZR in the Yunieski Betancourt post. Craig only played 29 innings in centerfield last year and had a remarkable 16.5 UZR/150. That being said, I would NOT play him in center field unless he is hitting even better than last year to make up for - what I see as - his skills being lacking as a defensive center fielder. Craig also played 106 innings in right field last year. He had an 11.0 UZR/150 in right. Lastly, he had 3 outfield assists last year in 325 2/3 innings played, while making zero errors.
Lastly, I'll take another step into the world of sabermetric stats here and look at fWAR. In only 219 plate appearances last year, Allen Craig accumulated 2.6 fWAR. (Note: b-r has Craig at even better on defense, so his bWAR was 2.9 in those 219 plate appearances.) Let's say he drops off 10% this year and is at 2.3 fWAR per 219 plate appearances. Here is what his fWAR total would look like with different amounts of PAs, first if his WAR production falls off 10%, secondly if it stays the same, and lastly if it actually raises 10% to 2.9 fWAR/219PAs:
300 PAs = 3.2 WAR, 3.6, 4.0
400 PAs = 4.2 WAR, 4.7, 5.3
500 PAs = 5.3 WAR, 5.9, 6.6
600 PAs = 6.3 WAR, 7.1, 7.9
Let's put those numbers into perspective. The only people with 500+ plate appearances for the Cardinals in the last 6 years (since the season of their last WS win) that accumulated even 5 WAR or higher follow:
1. 2011 Albert Pujols 5.1
2. 2011 Matt Holliday 5.0
3. 2011 Lance Berkman 5.0
4. 2010 Albert Pujols 7.5
5. 2010 Matt Holliday 6.7
6. 2009 Albert Pujols 9.0
7. 2008 Albert Pujols 9.1
8. 2008 Ryan Ludwick 5.6
9. 2008 Troy Glaus 5.2
10. 2007 Albert Pujols 8.4
11. 2006 Albert Pujols 8.5
12. 2006 Scott Rolen 5.6
It's pretty incredible. If you take out Albert Pujols in each of the 6 seasons, then only 5 position players in 6 years (Matt Holliday twice) have put up 5.0 fWAR for the St. Louis Cardinals. Everyone remembers how incredible Matt Holliday was in the 270 plate appearances that he had as a Cardinal in 2009 when he came over from the Oakland Athletics, accumulating 2.6 WAR in that time. Well, Craig did that in only 219 plate appearances last season. Does that mean that I think Allen Craig is 18.7% better than Matt Holliday? No, of course not. But I think that it definitely means that the Cardinals will truly be missing out if they do not give him the chance to sink or swim at the majors as soon as possible.
As Bernie Miklasz likes to write:
FREE ALLEN CRAIG.
Note: This was originally for another site, so please ignore things like the primer for ISO, which most of you know, and the plug for the Yunieski Betancourt article and primer for UZR.